New (Discretionary) Comment Policy

I’ve decided to add a new comment policy for certain situations where I think a particular person commenting should be more transparent about his or her own identity. This policy won’t apply in all situations and will be applied on a discretionary basis.

Here is the policy:

When requested, I will require certain people who comment to provide all of the following information:

  1. A real first and last name in the name box (not a pseudonym like “Papas Fritas” or something).
  2. A social media account (e.g., Facebook or Google+), professional networking account (e.g., Academia.edu or LinkedIn), or personal/professional website, which lists the same name provided in the name box.
    • In certain instances, I will further require that the linked website has a facial photograph of you.
  3. An email address that matches at least the first initial and the full last name provided in the name box. Please note the following:
    • The same email address must appear on the social media account, professional networking account, or website, and be visible to public view.
    • The email address must come from a server of restricted access (e.g., a work or university email address). Otherwise, someone can create a fake email address on AOL or Yahoo and apply it to someone else’s name and website.

I am making this requirement (in certain instances), so that both myself and the readers of this blog can know the real identity of certain individuals who comment. Situations in which I might want to know someone’s real identity include (but are not limited to):

  • The same person has been posting comments for a long time (and while not explicitly violating the Comment Policy) has in one way or another been irritating myself or other people commenting on the blog.
  • A person claims to have academic credentials, but posts under a pseudonym (in this kind of scenario I may specifically require a link to a profile on a university website, or at least an Academia.edu account).
  • A comment thread has been dragging on for a while, and I eventually want to know the identity of the person who is participating in it.
  • A person asks a question that will require a considerable amount of time and energy for me to respond. In such a situation, I may require the person to post such information, so that I can at least know the identity of the individual asking the question.
  • A person posts a particularly rude or inflammatory comment, which reflects poorly on his or her character, and then tries to hide behind a pseudonym. To be sure, most such comments will violate the Comment Policy, and most will be deleted (without acknowledgement). But every now and again one comes along, where I think the individual illustratively deserves to be called out. In such instances, I will temporarily block the comment (but still make its posting visible to public view), and then challenge the individual to provide his or her personal information (usually with a photograph). I will then see if they have the courage to do so. I doubt many will actually have such courage, but we’ll see.

Comments that are probably safe from this (discretionary) policy generally include the following:

  • People who do not provide their names, but who have been commenting here for a while, and who have generally behaved in a civil fashion (this applies to all ends of the spectrum, as far as theological beliefs are concerned).
  • A comment (from a person who is posting for the first time) that is generally civil and substantive in terms of its content, and doesn’t drag on for too long in the discussion thread.
  • Short comments, which only offer minor contributions to the post they are under, or simply include things like “good post” or “congrats” or “get well soon,” which generally don’t generate much more discussion.
  • Someone whose identity I know, even if they post under a pseudonym, and who would normally be willing to identify him or herself, if another person asked.
  •  Any comment that (for one reason or another) I don’t think that the identity of the person commenting is terribly pertinent to the substance of the comment or discussion.

I’m adding this policy because there have been a handful of instances over the years where I have wondered, as someone working toward my PhD in an academic field, whether I should spend my time interacting with certain individuals who don’t even post under their real identities. Now I have a policy in place that makes sure that they do, or that they stop commenting.

I suspect that most people who comment will be unaffected by this policy.

-Matthew Ferguson

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More Sad News: I’ve Lost My Best Friend (Part 1)

As I’ve discussed previously on this blog, 2016 was a royally crappy year, but 2017 is proving to be an utterly shitty one (I personally don’t like to cuss on this blog, but on seldom occasions it is justified). I mentioned in an earlier post how my sister died in February of this year, and now most recently, during the last few days of May (as I was moving out of my house in Pasadena), I lost my beloved feline son, and best friend, Sebastian. Both Camille and I are shocked, devastated, and feel so, so, so lonely.

Sebastian’s death came as the eye of the storm in a hurricane of other crap that was going on in our lives at the time. We were both moving out of our house (which I am sure almost everyone can relate to as an exhausting experience), I was working on a paper to submit to a peer-reviewed volume (which I am sure most scholars can relate to as an exhausting experience), and Cam was about to begin a work retreat (where she is now), away from our new home, which is currently an un-setup apartment (which I am sure many professionals can relate to as an exhausting experience).

We have been so fucking busy (pardon my French), that this is the first time that I have even had a chance to begin writing Sebastian’s obituary.

Sebastian

Before I discuss the details of his passing, I want to tell the story of what an amazing and unique creature Sebastian was. The saga of how I adopted him was something of a miracle. While I was living with my old roommate in AZ, we had two cats–one of whom also sadly passed away recently this year (fuck you, 2017!)–and I grew to love both of them. I lived alone in Irvine during the first year of my PhD program, and Cam wouldn’t move out with me to SoCal for another year. I was feeling rather lonely. One day while walking to a seminar, I noticed a friendly orange cat sitting on the sidewalk (whom I later learned was named Jacks), and he was kind enough to let me pet him.

I decided that I wanted a kitty of my own, and so I started to check out some local rescues. I was accepted into seven Classics PhD programs when I started my doctoral studies, and I had to choose UC Irvine to even be in the right location to find Sebastian in the first place. When I was looking at his rescue’s website, there were pictures of probably a hundred cats or so. Sebastian’s photo stood out to me because there was something a little off about him (we’ll talk more about that later). His profile said that he liked to meow to get attention, and boy did that later turn out to be true!

But I haven’t really even began to explain the miracle behind his rescue and adoption. It’s an incredible story. I don’t usually write blog series of short posts, but instead long blogs that exhaustively treat a single topic. I have limited access to the Internet currently, however, day-to-day, for the time being, and I think Sebastian deserves an entire blog series of his own. So for the next several posts I am going to write about the incredible story of his life.

I know that we all love our pets, but Sebastian was especially close to me for several very deep reasons. Even now he is still giving me so many gifts and so much love. I have never met such a wonderful little critter. I’ll share the tale of his (rather difficult) adoption in the next post, where I incessantly tried to convince the rescue (who thought that he was un-adoptable) that he was a perfect choice for a pet, and eventually after weeks let them take him home with me. After that, I’ll share the tale of how he flourished into the happiest cat that I have ever seen, in his new home, with me as his loving father…

-Matthew Ferguson

Posted in Musings | Tagged | 5 Comments

A Brief Status Update for the Summer

I have been super busy with both academic and personal work lately, and so I just want to give a brief status update about my (apparent) absence from the blog.

First off, if you don’t see new posts from me, that doesn’t mean that I am not adding new content. I regularly add footnotes and new material to old essays (as well as answering comments), and so this is a heavily tailored blog. I tend to write long essays on specific topics, rather than short blog posts, and to beef them up over time.

Most of my page views come from Google searches and not new posts, and so the blog is still getting a lot of new material out there. I want to clarify this, especially since I have some people supporting me on Patreon, and I don’t want to give the impression that I’m not active on the blog. I plan to add some new posts in June, but still have a lot of work to get done in the near future.

I just moved out of my house to a new apartment yesterday, which was exhausting, and, very sadly, my cat Sebastian has been in the hospital. I’ve also got an academic deadline to meet soon which has kept me quite busy. I’ve likewise still been facing health issues with my insomnia, and so I’m going to go back for treatment this month, but I will still have access to the Internet.

I appreciate everyone who reads this blog, both secular and religiously affiliated alike. I can’t wait to one day get my PhD, hopefully find a decent job, and to continue providing good information for the public to learn about the ancient world and philosophy. But I also can sometimes burn myself out.

I’ll be working at a gradual pace this month, and I have an exciting new announcement that I should be posting soon. I hope that everyone is enjoying their summer. Stay healthy and safe! These last couple years have been tough on a lot of us! What matters is that we look out for ourselves and each other.

Pax vobiscum,

Matthew Ferguson

Posted in Announcements | 2 Comments

Speaking on a Debate Panel at Riverside, CA in July

I have been invited by organizer Phil Calderone to speak on a panel at Riverside, CA that will take place on July 9th, from 1:30-4:30 PM, in the community room of Louis Robidoux Library. The panel is part of a debate series called “Believers and Nonbelievers in Discussion.” The topic of the panel will be the historical reliability of the Bible, and there will be two panelists on each side. I’ll obviously be representing the “nonbeliever” position.

Screenshot 2017-04-19 at 3.27.58 PM

For those who can’t make it to the event it in person, a video will be uploaded on YouTube afterward, which I will post here on Κέλσος. I will also post another announcement about the event, as its date approaches. You can read more about the group hosting the event on the following Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/BandNBtalk/

And you can likewise view previous panels that are part of this series on the following YouTube channel:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSW-YYey3jfORZ4fBwPZnZg

Overall, I greatly look forward to participating in this discussion. I have participated in three recorded debates previously, but this is my first chance to join in as part of a debate panel. I hope to bring some good skeptical arguments to the dialogue, especially from my background in Classical history and literature.

-Matthew Ferguson

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Dialogue with Vincent Torley over the Probability of Jesus’ Resurrection

Yesterday I wrote an extended response to apologist Vincent Torley’s OP–“Evidence for the Resurrection”–which was discussed recently in a post on John Loftus’ blog. In his OP, Torley argues that there is about a 60-65% subjective probability that Jesus rose from the dead, based on the disciples’ post-mortem experiences of Jesus.

Since a link to of one of my essays–“History, Probability, and Miracles”–was included in Loftus’ post and came up in the discussion thread, Torley made some criticisms of it, which led to a dialogue that eventually resulted in me writing my extended response to Torley’s OP. Here is my reply to Torley:

https://celsus.blog/reply-to-vincent-torley/

Screenshot 2017-04-12 at 2.25.57 PM

If my tone sounds a bit frustrated at the beginning, I should note that I originally hadn’t planned to respond to the OP, as I have been busy working on my dissertation, but I got sidetracked into it when I responded to Torley’s criticism of my essay in the discussion thread. I’ll try to avoid sounding frustrated in my further interactions with Torley by moderating the amount of time I spend engaging in our arguments.

I think both Torley’s OP and my response raise some interesting questions about the role of probability in assessing historical claims, the nature of the primary sources for Jesus’ resurrection, and to what extent we can make precise description about the disciples’ alleged post-mortem experiences of Jesus. Readers of this blog will know that these are common topics discussed here on Κέλσος, and so I think they will find my dialogue with Torley to be of interest.

-Matthew Ferguson

Posted in Apologists, Historical Jesus, Historical Paul, History, Philosophy, Replies to Critics, Resurrection | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

Upcoming Interview on Hinge Podcast about Faith, Doubt, and the Historical Jesus

I have been invited to do an interview on Hinge podcast regarding the life and figure of the historical Jesus (as as well as related issues concerning the New Testament), and the topic of faith and doubt. Hinge is run by two hosts, one a Christian pastor (Drew Sokol) and the other a skeptical atheist (Cory Markum), who together grapple with the mysteries surrounding Jesus of Nazareth, along with other issues pertaining to religion, history, and philosophy.

Hinge Podcast

The interview will be broken into pieces and included as part of a season of podcasts, which will span 10-12 sequential episodes, and will feature interviews with other biblical scholars, historians, philosophers, scientists, and writers, depending on the content of each episode. I will be appearing in at least one of the episodes and possibly more, depending on what rabbit holes we go down during the discussion.

Right now we are scheduled to hold the interview in June, but the first episode of the season won’t be released until late in the year (with a new episode released each week after that). I’ll post an announcement here once it is up. Until then, you can check out an earlier podcast on Hinge–titled Hinge: The Making Of”–which teases out some of the topics that Drew and Cory will get into when they release the official first season of Hinge later this year.

I greatly look forward to joining in as part of the discussion in this first season!

-Matthew Ferguson

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Shifting (Some of) the Emphasis on the Blog

These last several months, starting around Fall 2016, have been a heavy spiral of thoughts, emotions, and self-reflection, which have given me a good deal of consideration into what I want to do with my career, how I want to live my life, and the personal philosophy with which I approach this blog. I have also discussed some life events that have likewise had a major impact on me recently. I want to share a bit about how all of this will relate to my blogging, as well as my dissertation.

Celsus Screen

My recent period of reflection has led me to the decision to re-brand Κέλσος a bit, which now has a new URL–Celsus.blog–and to shift some of its emphasis more toward exploring secular views of the Bible, theology, and philosophy (a positive approach), rather than framing what I do as “counter-apologetics” (a negative approach). This change in emphasis will not drastically affect the arguments that I make (I still plan to be critical of the arguments of Christian scholars), but it will involve framing things less adversarially. I was involved in Classics and the study of the ancient Mediterranean world long before I interacted with the arguments of religious apologetics, and all of the research that I do and the arguments that I make can continue to be done, within the less antagonistic context that I originally started.

Below I will discuss some of the ways that I think I can present the writing that I do on this blog in a more positive light, along with a number of the factors that made me reach the decision to re-brand:

Continue reading

Posted in Announcements, Musings, Philosophy | Tagged | 10 Comments